Table of Contents:
The disaster at Roanoke Island.The following is from the pen of Major Thomas Dolan, who recently resigned a Captaincy in the 5th regiment Louisiana volunteers to join the Wise Legion as an amateur. Tom Dolan says that the fight on Roanoke Island was a very respectable one, and from his scars and experience in Nicaragua he should be a judge of such matters. We know of him, that the last time he was wounded at the battle of St. George by three shots at one time, (two of which were supposed to be mortal, and five having stricken his horse,) he remarked pleasantly to his commander, ‘"General, I suppose I am what they call killed, but you will be my witness that I was not scared."’ Great Bridge,Feb. 16, 1862. Those posted in military affairs, (who are not a large class,) whether West Pointers or others, know that the defences of Roanoke island were wholly inadequate. Nothing but strong batteries and heavy obstructions at the marshes, (where there were none,) could have prevented the enemy, if in force, from passing. Once past the marshes, if there had been fifty thousand men on Roanoke Island, the Federalists, without wasting a charge of powder, could have starved them into capitulation more easily than with the force that was there. On the morning of the 7th, the signal being fired by Com. Lynch, between 12 and 2 P. M., the 59th Reg't Va. Vols., (Col. Henningsen's regiment,) Lieut. Col. Anderson commanding, and two companies of the 49th Reg't Va. Vols., Captains O. Jennings Wise and Coles commanding, crossed over from Nag's Head to Roanoke Island. That evening, Com. Lynch, with seven steamers, engaged the enemy's fleet. I counted sixty vessels, (there are said to have been treble this number,) of which about twenty steamers were in action, after losing one of his steamers and firing away his last charge, Com. Lynch retired. We advanced about five miles to, and manned the barricade in the swamp, the enemy having effected a landing. There were, before we came on the island, two North Carolina regiments--the 8th, Col. Shaw, and the 31st, Col. Jordan. They reported 1,200 men for duty, of which 400 were in the batteries. The pickets having been driven in by the enemy, Lieut. Col. Frank Anderson ordered down twenty men under Capt. O. J. Wise, (ten of the Richmond Blues, 49th Virginia volunteers and ten of the McCulloch Rangers, 59th Virginia volunteers,) the writer and Sumpter Williamson, of Ala, joining them as volunteers. We met their pickets. Williamson shot one, and we maintained our ground till 6 A. M., on the 8th, when the enemy began skirmishing with us. I could then see about 300 of the enemy skirmishing through the swamp. The McCulloch Rangers were then sent to support us, under command of Lieut. Hazlett, whose former Captain, Imboden, was a volunteer in our party. We kept skirmishing with them till 8½ o'clock, falling back from our first position, about half a mile distant, to within three hundred yards of the barricade, being under fifty men, and pressed at last by at least one thousand of the enemy — the whole or chief part of the 21st Massachusetts regiment, as we recognized from their dead, eight or ten that we examined, and some troops in red breeches and caps, supposed to be the New York Zouaves. We were then compelled to fall back to the barricade. There were then at the barricade and under the command of Lieut. Col. Frank Anderson, eight companies of the 59th regiment Virginia volunteers, two companies of the 49th regiment Virginia volunteers, two companies of a North Carolina regiment. --They were supported by three pieces of artillery — viz: one 13 pounder, commanded by Major Schermerhorn, (volunteer;) one 24-pounder, by Lieutenant Kinney, and one 6-pounder, by Lieut. Selden. But these pieces had only twenty rounds between them, and the large pieces used 12-pounder canister. The total force at the barricade, (the only force engaged,) was about 500 men or less. At about the enemy having increased in numbers, opened fire from a 24-pound howitzer and 12-pound howitzer, with shell and spherical case, and at about 10 o'clock advanced some one thousand men to charge this battery. They came in column, flanked by skirmishers, in good order, and up to within fifty yards of the barricade, yelling and cheering. I could not, for the smoke, discern uniforms or regiments. Our men waited in silence, and when our guns opened the enemy broke and scattered. At this time the Richmond Blues, Captain Wise, and the McCulloch Rangers, were deployed on the left and right wings, respectively, as skirmishers, and stood their ground, though entirely unprotected by the barricades. The enemy then again plied us with artillery, and about half an hour after (as near as can be recollected in a fight) made a second charge. I should judge this charge to have been made by two regiments. They came up in fine order, but not as close as at first, and were met in the same manner and worse broken than before. Lieutenant Selden at this moment was shot dead by a bullet through the head. Again they plied us with shell, canister, and spherical case. At about 11 o'clock, the third charge took place. Major Schermerhorn, the ammunition having at the end of the second charge given out had started a driver with a cart to try to obtain a fresh supply. He being shot through the head, I jumped into the cart, drove him to the hospital, and went after the ammunition.--At this charge the enemy were again driven back, I believe, entirely by musketry; but the guns may still have had two or three rounds. This charge, however, I did not see. About 800 yards off I found Col. Shaw's and Col. Jordan's regiments; about three and a half miles off I met Major Fry, with four companies of the 49th Virginia volunteers, having just landed and advancing, and Colonel Green, with a North Carolina regiment of the Wise Legion, also just landed, and waiting for the landing of his ammunition and baggage. I then obtained a little ammunition, (24 rounds of 6 and 12-pounder,) and returned, and after proceeding about two miles I found some fugitives, Col. Green's regiment, and Major Fry's companies, who had halted here, and I was informed that the barricade had been carried. This was about 12½ P. M. I heard that two more charges were made by the enemy. Shortly after, I met Lieuts. Bolton and Bagwell, who had received orders to spike the guns and throw into the water the powder of the northernmost battery. Lieut. Bolton proceeded thither for that purpose. I then got into my boat with Lieutenant Bagwell, and we moved round to the other end of the island and picked up Lieutenant Bolton, who had faithfully executed his orders. This is what I saw. I should judge that the enemy landed not less than from 5,000 to 8,000 men; but reliable accounts since state the number as 14,000. I heard that Col. Shaw, after the capture of the barricade, decided to capitulate, together with Cols. Jordan and Green and Major Fry, and their regiments and companies. I saw Lieut. Col. Anderson before leaving, and offered to take him off. He seemed much distressed, but said he could not desert his men. I heard that Captains Wise and Coles were killed. Of the 500 men engaged, Capt. Wise's company and the McCulloch Rangers bore the palm for bravery, where all behaved with gallantry, especially the two North Carolina companies, one of which was from Currituck county. This I saw. I also heard that the North Carolinians behaved with great gallantry in the Pork Point battery. With regard to the surrender of Col. Shaw, (an officer of acknowledged bravery,) I attribute it to the fact of his having many in his own and Col. Jordan's regiment so well acquainted with the locality that they knew surrender was only a question of time, as soon as the enemy's fleet passed the marshes. As far as the 500 who fought are concerned, in the battle of the 8th their loss in killed is reported fifteen; but the killed do not include the mortally wounded. The proportion of wounded to killed insanely less than three, and often five to one. This is, therefore, at least 60 killed and wounded, and I fear nearer one hundred. As regards the enemy, our information, derived from a flag of trace, places their killed and wounded variously between 300 and 500, and I should judge exceeding the latter number. Exclusive of this fighting, the only fighting done on land was that at Pork Point battery. The men of the Wise Legion made this gallant stand rather because they felt that they had a reputation to lose than from any eventual hope of success against an over whelming force, which, to do justice to an enemy, displayed great bravery. They were, besides, supported by a handful of Nicaragua veterans, who, I am proud to say, showed their accustomed gallantry, Major Schermerhorn, reported wounded, and volunteering on this occasion, was wounded five times in ten fights in Nicaragua; Anderson, the Commander of the barricade, was the man who took Castillo, Williamson, who during the fight took command of Captain Lewis's company, (Captain Lewis still being disabled by a shot received through the body at Camp Defiance,) was the hero of several out of twenty fights in which he made his mark in Nicaragua; Major Bacon, who had commanded a company of Rangers there, was with Col. Pegram when taken at Rich Mountain, was wounded by the side of General Garnett when he fell, and finally as aid to General Wise in Western Virginia, commanded a portion of his cavalry; Major Hoof, who had been with Walker through all his campaigns. There were, besides, Upshur and Deheart, who were Nicaraguan veterans, Lieut. Bolton, who had been in the same service, and Dr. Kellum, well and favorably known, who on this occasion volunteered as surgeon on board the Curlew, going out to her amid a shower of shot and shell, and fighting in her till she sunk. I had almost omitted to mention the very important fact, that when the barricade was finally carried by the enemy, after its defenders had been turned through a marsh, which had been pronounced impassable, and for months had been counted on for defence, (though Dr: Kellum learned from the people of the island that they had actually ridden through it on horse back,) it is the opinion of all experienced officers that the island could not possibly have been successfully defended--first, unless General Wise had come there a month earlier, with ample means to alter the defences, abundant ammunition, and double the force at his disposal. General Wise, at the time of the attack, was fortunately at Nag's Head, disabled that day by illness. Lieut. Col. Richardson was at Nag's Head, which he burned after the stores had been shipped, and the enemy shelled it after his retreat had been safely effected. Col. Henningsen was then at Elizabeth City, with three companies of artillery, waiting for transportation, and having started from Norfolk with horses all untrained to fire, and many-unbroken — to — harness, but which were trained and broken to both on the road and during three days sojourn at that place. If this artillery had been on the island, it might have delayed for a day or two its capture, rendering it more costly to the enemy; but that was all Gen. Wise is known to have made the most energetic representations as to the state of things there, and some of his officers, on landing, pronounced the place a perfect manstrap T. D.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.